Julie Byrne at Park Church Co-op

Have You Heard… Julie Byrne?

by Gabriel Valdez

“I’ve been called heartbreaker
For doing justice to my own.”

Sometimes a song can feel like getting lost in dappled light. It can lift time and make me feel the texture of the memories I most fear losing. These songs let us exist in two places at once, in two times.

The joy in this is the lightness of unpacking sensations from my past. The heartbreak is my inability to feel them fully again, as in presence. I sit with the sensation not of a moment, but of its memory. The windows into it are always shifting. I can’t climb into it fully, but I can feel the breeze come through, hear the echoes of it float in.

Sometimes a singer like Julie Byrne can take the heartbreak of being contained by the present in a way memory can’t be…and the joy of sensing all that memory floating free. In that moment, you’re sitting there with someone. You’re not alone in the joy or the heartbreak. Someone else is there with you, sharing the same conflicting longing and closure, aching and satisfaction, embarrassment and pride.

“I dreamt of the warmest days of love
Which knew not sorrow nor betrayal
When truth was will in the singing of the gale
But when I lay in a verdant field
None could stay my rising.”

It’s sunny there, and the wind will sway the branches, and if you can find stillness with the longing of your past, you can understand and appreciate it. You can see the elements of a memory, realize perspective you couldn’t in the moment.

Not all memories are good, either. Some are anxious, panicking, moments when someone made you lesser because that’s what kept you. Sometimes, you can reclaim the parts where you grew, without feeling like someone else has ownership or control of them. You don’t hear the echoes of doubt or fear that once were intertwined with the good things you learned about yourself.

You realize not being able to step back into those memories can be good. You didn’t fear losing them, you feared losing the elements that helped you grow to become who you are. You feared losing pain would risk losing the lessons learned from it, even when the lesson learned was to step away from pain.

“I’ve been sitting in the garden
Singing to the wind
Searching for an anchor
I’ve been seeking god within.”

We can hold on to the lessons of strength we each learn from rising back, without having to internalize the doubt or coercion that made us pen ourselves away in the first place. We can hold on to what we learned from pain and doubt, without having to hold on to the pain and doubt. We’re not what someone else tried to make us into out of the anxiety of what would happen if we didn’t reshape ourselves. We’re what overcame that fear and intimidation. But sometimes it takes a spark to think of it this way, to put it all together. Sometimes it takes a song, or sometimes a painting, or a movie, or a play, or conversation.

It takes a stillness in ourselves, imparted by something else to cease our restlessness and look at the memory in joy and heartbreak, in fear and strength, with the breath of panic that you thought you’d put behind you, and the calm to be able to accept that it no longer controls you. That’s what resilience is. It isn’t cold and calloused. It’s turning the panic of incomprehension into the calm of understanding. It takes a stillness to witness who you are and how you got there.

We come out the other side of it, without needing to get lost to anger and frustration. Maybe we even learn how not to get lost in panic and anxiety. We learn better how to get lost in our calmness. Julie Byrne offers a good place to slow the world down, like getting lost in dappled light.

If you like Julie Byrne, try: Dawn Landes for something lively and practical, Marissa Nadler for something darker and mysterious, Patty Griffin for the storytelling, or Joni Mitchell for the imagery.

Have You Heard… is a stream of song and band recommendations, many of which may be new to you. We hope it’s less concerned with celebrity and image, and more concerned with the music and what it evokes.

The feature image of Julie Byrne is from Brooklyn Vegan here.

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